A new fight against Census undercount emerges in Georgia

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder helped launch an initiative Thursday that aims to ensure that black men in Georgia are properly tallied during the U.S. Census, calling it essential to “raise the consciousness of people in the African-American community” ahead of next year’s count.

Appearing with Stacey Abrams and other African-American leaders, Holder said black men are among the hardest populations to count in the once-a-decade tally, and warned that an inaccurate headcount will alter how taxpayer dollars are spent, where businesses locate and how political maps are drawn.

“We want to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself and that black men aren’t under-counted,” said Holder, who estimated that 5% of black men in Georgia aren’t properly tallied.

“I want this to raise the consciousness of people in the African-American community – men in particular – that they have to do everything to make sure they’re counted. Because there’s an effort out there to try to keep us from being counted.”

He was part of a discussion organized by Fair Count, a group launched by Abrams and her allies to focus on minorities, non-English speakers, renters and others who are more likely to be skipped in the once-a-decade headcount of the U.S. population.

Based on the latest census estimates, roughly 20 percent of Georgians live in hard-to-count neighborhoods. That's no anomaly. The Census bureau said it missed more than 1.5 million minorities in 2010 despite an intense outreach effort that pushed the total cost of the tally to $15 billion.

The stakes are high: The data collected from the once-a-decade count of every person living in the U.S. will determine each state’s share of representatives in Congress and nearly $900 billion in federal funding for healthcare, education and other public services.

Over a 90-minute discussion, the group talked different strategies to engage black men and ensure they respond to Census workers. Their concerns echo many of the same problems voiced by members of Latino and Asian-American communities, where mistrust of the government influences the count.

“Black men opt out,” said former Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. “They don’t want to be counted by the government because they don’t want the government walking to their door, because maybe in the past they had negative interactions with the criminal justice system. There’s active exclusion, but there’s also active avoidance.”

Organizers encouraged local leaders to leverage their social networks and work on their persuasion skills. Part of the conversation focused on the central role that black churches could play in encouraging community members to participate in the Census.

“If we miss the opportunity to be counted, it’s our children who will suffer,” said the Rev. Willie “Bo” Barber, a prominent leader of the state’s AME clergy.

“We will be an information machine. We will not allow the narrative to be shaped for us. We will shape it.”